This Dancing Fractal Tree Is Awesome

December 3, 2014

(OK: Bear with me, guys. This is a little complicated to explain, but the payoff is SO COOL.)

Have you ever heard of fractals? They’re super-intricate structures whose parts are little baby copies of their wholes—so they look the same, no matter how much you zoom in on them. Kind of mind-boggling idea, right? Infinite sameness, no matter how close up you get?

Recently, Aatish Bhatia, a science writer at Wired and engineering educator at Princeton, had a realization: Trees are fractal-like, because each tree branch is essentially a little copy of the larger tree.

For example, this looks like a whole tree—but it’s actually just a single branch. (photo Aatish Bhatia/Wired)

If that doesn’t make sense to you, Bhatia gets deeper into the science of it here. But if you’re too impatient for all that, here’s what you really need to know: Bhatia decided he wanted to make an animated, “dancing” fractal tree using computer code.

And the result is mesmerizing:

If you’re looking for a great way to procrastinate, go lose a few hours playing around with the interactive version of his tree.

But Bhatia’s experiment actually gets even cooler—and dancier. He decided he wanted to control the movements of his tree with a human body rather than a mouse. To do that, he used a Kinect sensor bar, which allows a dancer to animate the tree as she waves her arms around. Or, as Bhatia more scientifically puts it, “The physical space that her body inhabits is mapped onto an abstract mathematical space”—i.e., the fractal tree code.

How neat is that?

Because every dance is better with a soundtrack, Bhatia set the finished product to music. Take a look!